We are indeed fortunate to have the Marbletown Rescue Squad here, staffed completely by volunteers from the community. Our own Harriet Weber, a High Falls resident, saw the need for this, and here is her story, and her remarkable legacy that endures to this day. Here is the story of the Marbletown EMS and of its founder, Harriet Weber.
“The call on my EMS radio said there was a biker in the ravine. I rush to the scene.
Another EMT arrives at the same time and we both lower ourselves into the deep hole. The patient’s chest is splayed open. He cannot breathe. We apply a life saving vented chest bandage. We know a helicopter is on the way to fly the patient to the nearest trauma center. The scene fills with firemen and police as well as our ambulance. The driver parks in a strategic spot so the patient can be quickly lifted aboard. The biker is saved”.
The above scenario is a true story told by a Marbletown First Aid Unit EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). For the past 52 years Marbletown First Aid Unit has provided emergency medical service and ambulance transport. As a 100% volunteer agency, we serve one of the largest land mass districts in New York State, comprised of eight fire companies. We have two rigs (ambulances), both relatively new, which must have a driver and an EMT on every call. Our squad consists of members who are cross trained, some of whom are certified as nurses, firemen, midwife, paramedics, first responders, high angle rope rescuers, and canine search/rescue handlers. At times, an EMT or driver in training, or a general helper ride along. What we don’t have is direct property tax support and must rely on donations and insurance billing to operate.
HFC: Tell us about Harriet Weber
EMS: In 1961, Harriet Weber, MFAU’s founder, was horrified when, in response to her call for help to transport her ailing mother to the hospital, a hearse and a mortician appeared. The hearse, a Chevy station wagon, was the only vehicle that was big enough for a person to be transported lying down. The mortician came along just in case a death incurred en route. Harriet immediately began a movement to create adequate transport and emergency care.
Her task wasn’t easy. When she required help with a patient, she would beg people standing in line at the local bank, asking, “Who can come with me? Matilda was chopping wood and chopped a gash in her leg”. Someone always volunteered.
Harriet’s best friend, Emily Stokes, joined Harriet to form MFAU’s rescue squad. When Emily’s son, Dick, was fourteen they taught him to drive the ambulance, a station wagon bearing the words Marbletown First Aid Unit. Driving was mostly on dirt roads with hairpin turns that he often had to navigate through snow storms, rocky terrain and flooded areas. Harriet continued to improve the quality of the vehicles that served as ambulances, and she also began training the helpful ride-alongs. She became a key force on the state level advocating training requirement for pre-hospital emergency care personnel.
HFC: How have things changed since Harriet’s early pioneering of rescue services?
EMS: In Harriet’s day, you could make changes to methods and practices. Levels of regulations and the compliance required to run a voluntary first aid unit have changed remarkably since Harriet’s pioneering days. Such businesses, commercial or volunteer, are now governed by the NYS Department of Health, which would never license a fourteen year old to drive an ambulance. In Harriet’s day, competitive, independent ambulance companies had no insurance billing and little town support. If the patient had no money on the scene, many of these companies refused service. The old movie Mother Jugs and Speed with Racquel Welch and Harvey Keitel is famous for abuses such as demanding cash up front or “no ride to the hospital”
Amazing progress has been made in the health field since the 1960’s. During that period an EMT was trained to perform a tracheotomy in the field with a razor blade and a Bic pen, but wasn’t allowed to administer oxygen as it was considered a medication. EMT’s now provide basic and advanced life support, administer oxygen and use Bic pens only for writing. The City of New York in 1869 advertised a 30 second response time to pick up a patient and provided an ambulance surgeon and a quart of brandy for the patient. Now there are intravenous drugs to manage pain. The national 9-1-1 dispatch was implemented in the 1960’s and emergency responders today are notified through pagers and phone apps.
HFC: What would you say is Harriet’s legacy? How is she remembered?
EMS: Here in High Falls we have a plaque commemorating Harriet Weber. In New York State Harriet is referred to as the mother of EMS, and there is a statue in Albany Plaza honoring her. She implemented the first medical training protocols over fifty years ago. MFAU members continue to embrace her ideals by volunteering their time, energy and training for the good of the public. It is their belief that the willingness to help each other strengthens their own community, and by example, communities at large. Harriet’s amazing dedication, innovation, energy, and willingness to do everything humanly possible to help people needing medical care will live on as long as Emergency Medical Services exist.
The MFAU headquarters is one of the original High Falls school houses.The MFAU invites the Conservancy and all persons to come visit the historic building at 30 School Hill Road, High Falls where history is still being made.